The Cartography of the Waterfalls

Kaaterskill Falls, a painting by Judith Reeve

As an artist, it is always a good experience to see one’s work put together as a show. It seems to give one a clarity that one cannot have moving from one painting to another and from one experience to another. Seeing it as a unit clarifies the various experiences and brings them into focus. The vision of the artist becomes revealed. All that I felt I was on to in those moments takes on new meaning for me. Those intuitions and insights I had in those intimate spaces has acquired a language that speaks back to me and tells me who I am, for it is impossible to know oneself completely, and to find there something new. I paint not only to share my experiences with others, but to understand that compass within myself. Many times, one does not know why one is attracted to a certain image, but over time, those images expose a cartographer’s map, whose analysis of the peaks and valleys reveals a profound and beautiful imaginative landscape. It is why we love to see the body of an artist’s work, not just one or two images.

It is this feeling for image, whether I encounter it in a painting or a poem, that is forever enticing me to seek its meaning and manifestation. The waterfalls are one of those images. William Blake states that, “Art is the incorporation of the greatest possible imaginative effort in the clearest and most accurate form.” This is the real challenge for the artist. Has my work achieved a unity between my imaginative perception and the form I have given to the image? Does the image have a vital life?

When I reflect on the waterfalls I have painted, I have found that the encounter with the falls presents two contradictions. When one is at the top of the falls and stands above the precipice where the water drops off, one is filled with a little fear and trembling. The abyss has its unconscious impact on one. It compels one to stay away from that awful edge. But when I am below the falls, I experience its sublime beauty, its intimate connection to a deeper place within myself that is less instinctual and more spiritual. But there is a real connection between these two vantage points. It is the falling water itself that bridges the abyss between the above and below. In reality, the falls unifies what I feel in my lived experience is divided. The constant flowing water without ceasing is a visualization of the wholeness of man’s experience. The intimate yet grand space felt in the falls gives one insight into this dynamic relationship that is at the tip of one’s awareness. Blake confers that, “Art sees its images as permanent living forms outside time and space. This is the only way in which we can stabilize the world of experience and still retain all its reality.” (Blake paraphrased by Northrop Frye in Fearful Symmetry, 1947, p.85)

See “Waterfalls of the Catskills” on display at Saatchi Art.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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